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Potty Training: A Parent’s Guide

Perhaps calling this a ‘guide’ is a little misleading; it suggests some element of knowledge, or even expertise on the topic. I am not an expert on potty training. In fact, as has rapidly become clear with child number two, I am about as far from being an expert as it is possible to be! What I am though, is an everyday, working mum, grappling with the realities of being at the beck and call of  two young humans, 24 hours a day. 

So, on to potty training. What have I learnt? First and foremost, children are different. It sounds obvious, of course they are different. We are taught from early on in life to embrace differences and of course I do. I love that my daughter is sensitive, caring and relishes reading; I love that my son is a bundle of energy, sporty, willful, but so, so loving. Their personalities are polar opposite, as is, it transpired, their approach to moving from nappies to the toilet.

The calm before the storm

Potty training my daughter was easy. It took a weekend. We waited until she turned three, in part because I rarely rush to do anything, but also because for her, the year she turned two was already fairly action-packed, we moved overseas and she gained a younger brother. We had a few accidents that first weekend, but beyond that no major incidents. She had a reward chart that worked excellently and the transition was so smooth, we barely noticed it.

Pride comes before a fall

Given our experience the first time, we were fairly smug in our approach to potty training round two. We’d done it once before, it had been relatively easy, how much harder could it be to do it again!?

The answer, as it turned out, is exponentially harder! We are approximately 10 weeks and 15,000 accidents into the process. We have shouted, we have complained, we have sighed and wrung our hands with frustration; but most of all we have laughed, because sometimes when parenting seems tough, that truly is the only thing you can do.

My 5 step process   

I think I can summarise the early days of potty training into five steps:

1) Wait until a global pandemic places you in lockdown.

Once again, I delayed potty training, but then Joey turned three whilst we were under COVID-19 lockdown. It seemed the perfect time to start the process because we were spending prolonged periods of time at home. There was no pressure to rush things, we could take things at our child’s pace. Sometimes modern life is hectic, lockdown gave us the chance to live a less frantic lifestyle, to breathe and to spend quality time together as a family.   

2) Buy pants, lots and lots of pants.

Repeatedly reassure your child how amazing said under-garments are; tell him or her what a big boy/girl he or she is, with their grown-up pants. Spend twice the amount you spend on your own underwear, buying Spiderman/Frozen* branded pants in the hope that they will be deemed worthy of use. 

(*other options are available; in fact the choice is fairly overwhelming.) 

3) Go for regular family excursions to the bathroom.

Now this is where the fun really starts, who doesn’t want to use the toilet with an audience of active commentators? Whilst visiting the bathroom, point out the toilet, and the special training seat, and the potty. All take turns to sit on the toilet. 

4) Sing and dance like a crazy person when your child manages their first “big boy/girl wee wee”.

Instantly assume you have cracked potty training, congratulate yourself on a job well done, tell all the family, revel in your smugness, until……

5) ….you realise it was a fluke.

The ratio of successes to accidents is approximately 1:15*. You spend at least 25 minutes of every day hosing down pants and cleaning up mishaps. You wish you’d never started, but it’s too late to turn back!  

(*in my personal experience. You may find your ratio is better; or, if you are really unlucky, you might find it is worse!)

The moral of the story

Of course it never is too late to turn back really; sometimes children just aren’t ready. We know Joey is ready, we also know he has a slightly strange perception of what makes for good mother-and-son-bonding-time. I genuinely think he enjoys the time we spend together in the bathroom cleaning him up, he enjoys our little chats and maybe on some strange level so do I.

Children grow up fast and there will come a day when he won’t need me in the same way; perhaps I won’t always be the first person he comes to in times of trouble. For now, I am; so I will roll my eyes, I will sigh and scold him gently, and laugh at the irony of what my life has become. But, I will see the humour in the situation too, because laughing along with our children helps them grow as people. To diminish our little boy’s character in any way would be a great misdemeanor on our part. He will get the hang of using the toilet, of course he will. Until then, I have a mop, I have copious quantities of wet wipes and I have mummy’s secret chocolate stash; and with all that in place, anything is bearable!